Nevermind's Early Access is a deep dive into the minds of the disturbed0 Comments
To begin to understand Nevermind, the horror game out now for Steam Early Access, you need to understand the heart of this madness. The main villain of this first-person experience isn't some monster looming in the darkness or a shadow conspiracy out to get you. Flying Mollusk, the team behind the title, manages to target an enemy you cannot escape, you cannot hide from, and even when the game is over, they will still be there. That villain is you. And somehow as you play the game, Flying Mollusk hopes to help you conquer that villain that keeps you from being the best possible version of you.
As you can probably already tell, this is not your typical survival-horror game and this is not your typical preview. I actually played this game awhile back, and I haven't been the same since.
Every semester, USC brings out the newest games their students have to offer in what they called "Demo Day." Think of this as the E3 of academia, but instead of places like Activision and Blizzard putting up their best games, this is where the publishers comes to find the best people. Free food entices most people through the front door, but it's the room beside the main hallway that will lure in the most inquisitive parties with rough games and new ideas. Just to be clear, I now work on the other side of the velvet rope, helping the students at USC find their own way into gaming.
I played games about exploring a laboratory by shrinking, warping from enemy to enemy to travel around the room, and I played a series of games on handmade controller. And if you don't believe me, you can dive back into the G4 archives to find my report.
There was one other game that struck me as being different than the rest. Nevermind looked to interact with the player in a way unlike the others by adjusting to your body's feedback to the game. As the game pushes you, the body sends out signals back to the game making it nearly unplayable until you can regain control of yourself – which is sort of what happened to me that day.
I don't know what it is, but I feel anxious in crowds. It doesn't even have to be a big crowd, but even something as small as a house party can send me running for the hills. There's an unknown dread that grasp at you, like frozen fingers curling around your very heart. For many with anxiety, every day can feel like a horror game as though something somewhere lurks around every corner. Nevermind takes you to that edge before pulling you back out of it. The game stops you from proceeding, points out the anxiety, and won't let you continue until you control it. That's the real villain, controlling your anxiety.
It wouldn't be until a year later when I would strap on the full apparatus to my sternum for another preview I was working on at the time. The developer led me through the kitchen section of someone's memory. Exposing yourself to a room full of people as they hooked you up to a computer would send anyone into higher levels of stress. It took only moments before the cabinets and walls started gushing forth milk. This seemed to only add to my stress which in turn added more milk to the room.
Erin talked me through the process, how calming down was the only way to continue. As my heartbeat slowed down, the milk started to fade away. This was just one of the many actions that triggered during stress while I played through the demo. Each time, I took a moment to regulate my heart and remember that it was only a game. In much the same way in crowded situations, I find myself looking for a quiet spot away from the noise and the bodies. Here, I needed to find that peace during a time of stress and panic. When your world is filling with chaos, sometimes the only life raft you'll find is yourself.
In the game, you start out as a new psychologist exploring the inner depths of the minds of your patient. A special chamber attached to your office lets your delve into a virtual world created by the patient, but as a part of this connection, your own psyche may mix with that of the patient to cause wild hallucinations. The story pushes you to go past the point that you feel safe, but will never keep you there if you need to escape. There's always a way out, a moment to catch your breath before you trudge on.
You collect bits and pieces of the patient's memory in order to help them discover the source of their anxiety. Out of the all the pictures you pick up along the way, only a handful of them will be helpful putting together the story of what happened to them in the past. For the first patient, I followed a trail through the woods where I needed to give bread to animal statues in order to continue. There were memories of a birthday, a sleepless night, and an abusive mother that laid scattered along the path but only a couple of them fit together to tell the full story.
From the woods decorated in broken dolls, a clearing with a house came into view. Candy, cages, and a hungry oven; I worked through the moments until I found myself back where I had started. If you haven't worked it out by now, the first stage sends you through the memories of Hansel and Gretel, as though one could ever forget a giant house made of candy. The other patient comes from a more grounded source so don't expect to diagnose all of characters from Grimm's Fairy Tales though that might make for good DLC.
Nevermind represents a change in the industry as we expand on what are games for and who can play them. Using the trapping of a horror game, this Early Access title finds a way to help people through play. There's a lot that still needs to be done with this game. There's no study as of yet determining the psychological benefits behind the game as of yet. The biofeedback monitors can also be a bit pricy ranging from 75 dollar to over a thousand though it seems that the Kinect might be able to fill in that gap once it heads to the Xbox One. And if you're looking to just play for the experience of it all, you'll only get one additional patient to treat for now after your time in candy land.
Even after all these years, I'm still excited about the promises behind Nevermind, what it means for the industry as well as for people suffering from anxiety.